Ulysses S. Grant
Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant in Georgetown, Ohio, in 1822. His father was a hardworking tanner and his mother a devoutly religious woman who had great hopes for her son. As a child, Grant preferred horses to studying. He proved a skilled rider but did poorly in school.
At West Point and Beyond
Despite his poor grades, Grant managed to make it into West Point thanks to a recommendation from his local congressman, who mistakenly referred to him as Ulysses Simpson Grant in his letter to the academy. Grant continued his tradition of mediocrity at West Point, graduating twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine. At Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, he met his future bride, Julia Dent. He disagreed with the Mexican War but fought bravely and learned much about handling soldiers and supplies.
Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant Photo courtesy of the National Archives (200-CA-38)
Following the Mexican War, Grant was assigned to a variety of distant posts. He missed Julia and began drinking, but being short and slight (he weighed 135 pounds), alcohol sometimes got the better of him. Reprimanded, he resigned from the army.
Grant moved with his family back to St. Louis, where he tried a number of occupations with little success. Finally, his two brothers hired him as a clerk at their leather store, and there he stayed until the beginning of the Civil War.
The Civil War
When the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter, Grant eagerly volunteered for the Union army but had great difficulty getting someone to assign him to a true command. Finally, in June 1861, he was made colonel of a regiment of volunteers from Illinois. Three months later, Grant was promoted to brigadier general and assigned to a command in Illinois.
One of his first tasks was to attack a small force of Confederates in Missouri. He set out with his troops and later admitted that he became quite nervous as he approached the enemy camp. But he discovered the camp had recently been abandoned. The lesson he learned from this, he recounted, was that the enemy was just as likely to be scared of you as you were to be scared of him. The lesson prompted an aggressiveness that never left him, and he eventually won complete victory for the Union armies.